By David Bicknell
The government has announced that it will provide new support to help staff-led mutual organisations set up and spin out from the public sector.
The government wants public sector staff, tax payers and service users to benefit from the increased innovation, higher productivity and better customer satisfaction mutuals often create.
To help encourage and foster the development of mutuals, the government has launched a new £10million programme Mutual Support Programme (MSP) to provide business and professional services to groups of staff or existing mutual organisations.
A consortium of experts in employee ownership will manage the programme to purchase HR, legal, financial, tax and business planning services to develop the most promising new mutuals.
Public sector staff who want to take control of the services they run can access a new Mutuals Information Service.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said, “The Government is getting support in place, developing a pipeline of innovative new mutual ‘spin outs’ where employees have real power. The evidence is clear – mutuals can provide better, more efficient public services.
“It’s time for politicians and public sector bosses to cut the apron strings and trust frontline staff to make decisions. They are the real experts, they know what’s important to the people who use the service and they know how things can be done better.”
The Mutuals Support Programme will also fund support to help organisations tackle common barriers and share information so that many others benefit from the work.
The Government has also published the first progress report from the Government’s Mutual Pathfinder programme which highlights barriers that staff have faced, including a tendency for contract tenders to make requirements beyond what is legally necessary such as demanding an organisation has a multi-million pound bond before taking the contract.
Maude was critical of such requirements, saying, “Too often tender processes go way beyond what’s necessary, asking for massive bonds up front and insisting that the organisations have existed for years. Iron cladding contracts bars all but a few big companies from winning them. It is a fundamental barrier to creating the vibrant, innovative and competitive public services this country needs.
“Through our Mystery Shopper exercise mutuals and other small businesses can tell us about discriminatory practice. We will intervene when problems are exposed. I do understand that Commissioners may feel stuck in the middle. Where they feel they are forced to over complicate things they can let us know through the Tell us How website and we will address the problem.”
Professor Julian Le Grand, Chair of the Mutuals Taskforce, said: “The Mutuals Taskforce has gathered evidence for why employee-led mutuals make sense in public services. The next phase of our work will be focused on making the case across the public sector and stimulating demand.”
Maude and Le Grand made the announcements while visiting the largest Pathfinder mutual, Anglian Community Enterprise, which provides over 40 community health services and a range of learning disability, GP and dental services for the population of North and North-East Essex.